Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): Technological Promises, Oil Sands Growth, and Carbon Reduction

At present, the only existing technology that can separate and remove industrial CO2 gas and prevent it from entering the atmosphere, albeit at enormous cost, is carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Canada plans to almost double oil sands production from 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2014 to 4.5 million bpd by 2040. The problem is that the oil sands industry is the largest single source of emissions growth in the Canadian economy. So far, technological innovation has not been able to lower carbon intensity per barrel fast enough to alter the existing trend. Over the past ten years, the industry’s emissions have continued to increase in step with rising production – offsetting about two-thirds of the total emissions reductions achieved in all other economic sectors across Canada combined.

In 2008, the Province of Alberta announced a remarkable plan to deploy CCS technology on a very large scale, to capture emissions from the expanding oil sands industry. The plan counted on the continued expansion of bitumen production to 2050, but claimed that emissions would begin to decline sharply by 2020.

This essay provides an account of that effort to adopt CCS technology in Alberta, and explores other recent promises that alternative new and emerging technologies will significantly curb emissions in the oil sands industry.